One of the more mysterious things about stabilizer, for some people anyway, is weight and what that means when it comes to selecting and using stabilizer for a particular job. On the surface, backing weight seems pretty simple, ounces are a familiar weight measurement, so saying a type of backing is 2.5 ounces seems fairly easy to understand. What complicates things is when you start factoring backing weight into the success or failure of an embroidered project. Will using a 2.0 oz. backing rather than a 2.5 oz. backing mean the doom of your design? Does the weight you choose to use really have that much impact on the success or failure of your project? Manufacturers go through the bother of weighing stabilizer so the weight much have some impact on the function.
The first thing to understand about stabilizer weight is how manufacturers determine what that weight should be. The weight of a piece of backing is measured by the square yard. This means that, should you have 1.5 oz. backing of the same type but from different manufacturers, each square yard you weigh should weigh 1.5 oz. Heavier weight backings, a 3.0 cutaway for instance, will be thicker and less flexible. A lighter weight backing, say a 1.8 oz. tearaway, will be thinner and have more flexibility.
Obviously, the weight of the backing will impact the functionality of the backing as well. If, for instance, you’re sewing a sweatshirt, and the design is dense, a heavier weight backing will pair with the fabric better and be more suited to holding a dense design. Suppose, however, that you’re sewing on a lightweight polo shirt, with a bit of a drape. Then you’ll want a lighter weight stabilizer that is able to move with the drape of the fabric and not interfere with the lines of the garment. Weight impacts drape and flexibility and the ability to hold a certain number of stitches or a dense design. All these elements can impact the success or failure of your finished design.
The construction of the backing also has a little bit to do with the weight of the backing, and a lot to do with the quality. Machine embroidery stabilizer is typically made up of polyester fibers which are held together with viscose or wood pulp. High quality backing will have more poly fibers and less viscose, in lower quality backing the ratios will be the reverse. What determines the quality of the stabilizer is the length of the poly fibers and the amount of polyester versus filler that is in the material.
A quick and easy test to determine quality is the light test. Take the piece of stabilizer you want to examine and hold it up to a strong light source. If the piece you’re examining is high quality, the stabilizer will have even density and feel smooth when you run your hand over it. A lower quality backing will have thin spots and dense spots making for a more uneven sheet. This uneven density can impact the quality of your sew-out significantly.
Keep in mind that the sheerness and weight of a backing does not always determine the number of stitches that can be stabilized. Take, for instance, the poly mesh backing that EnMart sells. This backing is embossed, which means if you hold it to a light source, you’ll see a textured pattern in the material. The texture allows the poly mesh to hold substantially more stitches than an unembossed piece of the same weight would be able to hold.
In the end, weight is just one factor that impacts how a stabilizer will perform for a particular job. The make-up of the fibers and the construction of the backing can also be critical. And whether or not the stabilizer has any added features like embossing or texture can also make a difference in the density of the designs that can be used. When deciding what stabilizer to use for your job, make sure you take all these factors into account.